Here’s how colorful bugs will transform cosmetics

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Here’s how colorful bugs will transform cosmetics

Related tags Polymer

Biophotonic nanostructures made by beetles, butterflies and other bugs just might be the blueprint that scientists need to make iridescent pigments commercially practical.

An international team of researchers have noted that scientists are already making synthetic chemical polymers that are the same as nanostructures that produce color on some shimmery bugs. “Engineers, however, have had difficulty organizing these polymers in larger structures that would make them commercially feasible,” ​reports Nanowerk News.

How –to
The insects have a way of putting a multitude of the nanostructures together that makes them optically interesting, inhibiting light and producing intense colors.

Working from this structural example, scientists will be able to generate biomimetics to meet various material functions. “Precisely organized biophotonic crystals…can be used to improve solar cells, fiber-optic cables, and even cosmetics and paints,” ​explains that publication.

Academic achievement
A team of scientists (with ties to Yale University) made the discovery and published their findings on the American Chemical Society’s NanoLetters site as, Structural Diversity of Arthropod Biophotonic Nanostructures Spans Amphiphilic Phase-Space.

“We report a rich nanostructural diversity, including triply periodic bicontinuous networks, close-packed spheres, inverse columnar, perforated lamellar, and disordered spongelike morphologies, commonly observed as stable phases of amphiphilic surfactants, block copolymer, and lyotropic lipid–water systems” ​note the authors in the abstract.

Borrowing from nature
“Arthropods such as butterflies and beetles, which have evolved over millions of years of selection, appear to routinely make these photonic nanostructures using self-assembly and at the desired optical scale just like in modern engineering approaches,” ​says Richard Prum, senior author of the paper. 

Finding where that natural wisdom intersects with scientific practice is the real gain. “These biophotonic nanostructures have the same shapes commonly seen in blends of large, synthetic, Lego-like molecules called block copolymers, developed by chemists,” ​explains Vinod Saranathan, lead author and a faculty member at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

Market forces   
Demand for pigments is rising as is their cost. “Growing demand from beauty product manufacturers (as well as manufacturers in other industries) has contributed to the price increase in the pigment market,” ​reported Cosmetics Design​ last month.  

Business intelligence firm IBISWorld predicts pigment prices will continue rising​ and likely spike occasionally in the years ahead.  The simple solution is: “when possible, buyers should try to negotiate set pricing terms to prevent unexpected price increases,” ​says Jesse Chiang, business research analyst with IBISWorld.

This latest discovery will eventually impact the market as well. And, it’s likely that pigment's bug-like iridescence will be highly sought after as well.

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